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Navy SEAL Dies in Iraqi Firefight

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Earlier this month, 2nd Class Petty Officer Marc Allen Lee became the first Navy Seal to die in Iraq. He was killed when he stepped into heavy enemy fire in the city of Ramadi. Seals are among the most elite and secretive forces in the U.S. military. Lee was buried this past weekend at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Andrew Phelps of member station KPBS has this remembrance.

ANDREW PHELPS reporting:

As a kid in Hood River, Oregon, one of Marc Lee's dreams was to become a professional soccer player. But as a freshman on the high school team his chances looked slim.

Pastor CHUCK TOWELCOT(ph) (Soccer Coach): Marc was a horrible soccer player.

PHELPS: Pastor Chuck Towelcot was Lee's soccer coach. He would become Lee's lifelong mentor and friend.

Pastor TOWELCOT: He worked so hard and he had such a drive and determination to become an excellent player. He would ask me as he was growing up, do you think I have what it takes? Do you think I have what it takes?

PHELPS: Apparently he did have it. Towelcot says Lee eventually became a soccer star, a good team player and even a bit of a show off. Later he overcame hellish training and pneumonia to become a Navy Seal. Lee went on to dominate Iraqi soccer fields in friendly matches against Iraqi soldiers. But Lee's platoon mates say his ambition and courage never masked the size of his heart.

NICK (Navy Seal): You know he's just secure in himself that, you know, a bunch of big tough alpha male dudes that are trying not to show any emotion at all, he managed to do it. And that's rare.

PHELPS: That's Nick, one of several Navy Seals who fought along side Marc Lee in Iraq. They gathered at a family barbeque and agreed to speak to NPR on the condition we only use their first names. They remember Lee as brawny and boastful, but he also spoke openly of his love for God and family. When the guys played country music and rock and roll at base camp, Lee turned up his own soft rock. At the blackjack tables in Vegas, Lee drew big crowds with his boundless energy.

Lee's platoon mates say the bonds that formed in the first days of training makes them brothers. So when Lee was killed it felt like losing family. While fighting insurgents, the team came under surprise fire from a nearby building. Lee stepped in front of the teammates to fire his machine gun at the attackers. Then he was hit.

NICK: You know, it's baffling.

PHELPS: Nick says each Seal struggles with the loss.

NICK: To see your friend do that and then die, you know, it's like an emotional experience for every guy in this room as well as the other guys that were there. It's hard to describe, really.

PHELPS: His buddies say Lee was a consummate professional and the way he died is proof of that. Kevin says he hopes for the same ending if he meets his fate in combat.

KEVIN (Navy Seal): He died with his buddies and it's hard to convey that to his family because a loss is a loss and you can't replace it. I'm sure he's looking down happy that we're around him in his final moments.

PHELPS: Marc Lee's pastor, Chuck Towelcot, once questioned Lee's ambition to join the military. Now Towelcot says he is proud of Lee.

Pastor TOWELCOT: To me, war is the last step a nation has to take to protect itself, to defend itself. And yet glory can be found in war. What he did was glorious. He stood up for other people and he died for other people. He died for a teammate. He died for us.

PHELPS: Marc Allen Lee was 28 years old. Lee was posthumously awarded a Silver Star for gallantry and is survived by two siblings, his mother and his wife.

For NPR News I'm Andrew Phelps in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Phelps

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